City-based Samarpan Maiti, the second runner-up of Mr Gay World 2018, dreams of a day when there would be no need to use terms like "straight" to identify people, but says this could be possible only when people have the tolerance to accept diversities.
"I dream of a day when we don't need to coin terms like 'gay', 'straight' to identify people, one can simply say I am a man and my partner is a man and so on. This could be possible with the tolerance of accepting diversities, giving respect to everyone's personal choices," Maiti, also a cancer researcher, told IANS in an e-mail interview.
The 29-year old IIT Kharagpur alumni is a role model for those who "want to break the stereotypes, don't want to fit in any particular box" and is far from the caricature-like portrayals of gay men in Bollywood or other Indian shows. Despite his "broken English", he finished second runner-up in the contest held in Knysna in South Africa this May.
"My mother says that I made our country proud and that must be celebrated! Sadly in our society people don't have that same respect for us as Mr World or Miss World winners," Samarpan said after returning to Kolkata.
He thinks even if Section 377 of Indian Penal Code is done away with, it will matter little for the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community if society continues discrimination and violence, so community building involving the entire society is important.
Maiti is working for the visibility of aged and the rural folks of the LGBTQ community.
Juggling between such diverse fields, he has always wondered why someone couldn't be a model, actor, writer and scientists at the same time.
"Since childhood I wanted to be a scientist. I always feel that if I do something good in research it will help millions of people. But in future, if I find myself not doing up to that level, I may shift to something else. I am also interested in studying about acting and film direction."
Maiti's preparation started in 2016 when he became a model in a LGBT-themed photo series and acted in theatre and short films.
"I wanted to participate because it was in my mind that if I win the title, it will shake the society more because I am from a background which people see with a huge respect. I wanted people to respect me not only for my work but also as an individual," he added.
His journey is bitterly laced with his share of bullying and discrimination.
"Once my landlord drove me out of a hostel suspecting I was gay. Friends and even teachers bullied me calling 'girly', 'feminine', 'hijra' (eunuch) and all sorts of names. I cried a lot and tried to commit suicide. Only because of one of my straight friend's support, I survived," he disclosed.
He joined a reputed institute in Kolkata as a researcher working on "discovery of low cost-effective therapies and drug repositioning" for cancer. Even there society's ugliness followed him.
"The discrimination started in new forms, as I was from a remote village; I was not able to speak English fluently with the right pronunciation and kept myself isolated, but that did not stop my creativity," he said.
Maiti believes if he continues his good work, society is bound to love him for his work, accept him and his message, for who he is.
His cultural grooming started in the village fields amidst cows and huge collection of books at home. A friend, Archangel Mukherjee groomed him in modelling.
"In the international platform I felt how freedom of love could be and am inspired to bring that freedom here," Maiti said.
His mother took time to accept her son's sexual orientation.
"If your parents are not mentally prepared, try to educate them first. With my mother, I discussed the issues about LGBTQ community and their miseries. In Indian society, parents dream about their children's marriage and I explained why marriage is less important than the companionship with someone," Maiti said, in a suggestion to the ones trying to reveal their sexual orientation to parents.
Contending that homosexuality was not alien to Indian culture, he regrets that the problem lies in people not ready to accept it in real life.
"In our mythology, you will find lots of examples of same-sex lovemaking and people are worshipping them, but not ready to accept in real life. The policymakers think that it will affect their vote bank, some people think it's against our culture but we forget that is was imposed by the British," said Maiti.
(Binita Das can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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